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How to create a thriving neurodiverse workplace

"Adjusting work patterns can make a huge difference to neurodivergent people," according to the Bupa team

Neurodiverse individuals have unique skills and talents. So how can you best support them to allow those skills and talents to flourish in the workplace?

An estimated one in seven people in the UK are neurodivergent. But, what is neurodiversity?

“We have different conditions that are common when we talk about neurodiversity,” explains Dr Naomi Humber, a clinical psychologist and Bupa's head of mental wellbeing.

“There is autism, which affects communication, social interaction and behaviour. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which affects executive functions such as attention and concentration and behaviour, such as impulsivity. Dyspraxia, which is about physical coordination. And then there is dyslexia, which is about difficulty reading and interpreting words, symbols, and letters.”

Business benefits from building neurodiverse teams

There are specific benefits to building neurodiverse teams for all businesses. Neurodivergent individuals can bring unique skills and talents to any business, including attention to detail, innovative thinking patterns, diligence and creativity.

“People who are neurodiverse bring a lot to an organisation; they’re a real asset to the business. They can have impressive attention to detail, amazing energy levels and real focus in terms of certain tasks that they perform.

“Having a varied team which includes people who are neurodiverse means that an organisation’s workforce better reflects the demographic of their customer base,” says Humber.

How can businesses support neurodiverse people in the workplace?

Traditional working practices are often designed with a neurotypical society in mind. This can make it difficult for neurodivergent individuals to thrive in the workplace.

Employers that create an inclusive workplace where neurodiversity is celebrated and accepted can benefit from a diverse and talented workforce, as well as help to understand and support neurodivergent customers.

Humber advises: “It’s important to get to know the individual and understand their challenges, their strengths, their skills, their uniqueness.

“Communicating is really important. So, understand how you are communicating with people, whether that’s written, verbal or visual forms of communication. Think about the phasing you’re using when you discuss things. For instance, if someone is being sarcastic, or uses hypothetical scenarios or metaphors, people with autism might struggle to understand because they tend to be very literal.”

Humber adds: “People with ADHD will struggle if you are describing something in great detail that’s complex over a period of time. So you might want to give them some written instructions that they can take away and refer back to, if needed.”

Adjusting working patterns, ways of working and the environment can help to make a huge difference to neurodivergent individuals.

Humber continues: “Open-plan offers are often an issue for neurodiverse individuals because they can be an assault on our senses, with bright lights, hustle and bustle, and hot desking. There are a lot of things that go on in a busy office which can make it difficult for someone who is neurodiverse to be productive and successful.”

Are there any changes you can implement to the working environment which could help? Think about adjusting the lighting, standing desks, noise-cancelling headphones, quiet zones and dedicated workspaces which can help to reduce anxiety.

Technology may also help, such as speech-to-text and text-to-speech tools, daily planners and mind-mapping software.

Removing barriers for neurodivergent individuals in the workplace

The stigma around neurodiversity in the workplace can still be an issue. A report by the GMB Union found that seven in 10 neurodivergent workers said that they have faced discrimination in the workplace. Research from the Institute of Leadership and Management points to some of the barriers forward-thinking employers need to address to reap a neurodiversity dividend.

“It’s essential to promote awareness and understanding in the workplace, and embed an empathetic and person-led culture that supports and champions neurodiversity”, concludes Humber.

To help everyone perform at their best, it’s important to understand how traditional workplaces might affect neurodivergent people.

Here is our guide to learn more about what neurodiversity is, the value of neurodiversity in the workplace and how you can support neurodivergent employees at work.

Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace guide